Medina may get driverless metro in eight years

Pilgrims travelling to Islam’s second holiest city could soon be arriving at the world-renowned Al Masjid an Nabawi mosque on driverless trains.

A proposed metro system in Medina, Saudi Arabia, is likely to include driverless trains, the chief executive of the city’s public transport programme said yesterday.

The metro is likely to be operational within eight years and will be mostly overground.

Plans for the multibillion riyal mass transit system including three metro lines, two BRT (bus rapid transit) lines, four express bus routes and seven feeder bus routes were announced by the Saudi government last November amid soaring numbers of Haj and Umrah visitors.

Speaking at the Middle East Rail conference in Dubai yesterday, Mamdouh Tarabishi, the chief executive for the Public Transportation Programme for Medina revealed futuristic images of the city’s proposed metro trains, adding that they would “most likely” be employing a driverless design.

“Many Muslims spend their whole lives saving up to visit the city of Medina so the least we can do is provide a safe and easy to use transport system to accommodate them,” he told conference delegates.

He added that the city of 1.3 million inhabitants currently hosts about 8 million visitors a year and has no public transport apart from taxis.

A working committee including the finance and transport ministers has been established to facilitate and supervise the project, which is expected to be rolled out within eight years.

But Mark Loader, global director for rail at the engineering consultancy CH2M Hill, which was involved in building the city’s new airport, warned future contractors to prepare carefully for working in the city.

“The city of Medina presents a number of unique challenges for contractors,” he said. “Part of the city is off limits to non-Muslims, which can cause difficulties. When we were working on the airport there was only one hotel in the city that was open to non-Muslims. And, as in any Saudi contract you must plan early what visas you will need because it is very difficult to bring in extra labour.”

Saudi Arabia is also constructing a metro system in the capital Riyadh and a mass rail system in Mecca as part of its major infrastructure upgrade across the kingdom. Construction of the Riyadh metro started last April and it is set to open in 2019, while work on the Mecca system is expected to start next year and will be completed in three phases over a period of 10 years.

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